April 12, 2017

Dear Flint Hill School Families,

There are always challenges for us to work on with our students. One that has troubled me the most, over the past year or so, has to do with reports from teachers and counselors of how students are talking to each other. The issue can manifest in a number of ways, from teasing and uncomfortable jokes to name calling or otherwise pushing boundaries with their peers. And unfortunately, as adults we don’t always model the best behavior. Personal beliefs, political convictions, stereotypes and prejudice have been played out on the national stage in ways that can be confusing for our youngsters. With adults struggling, it can be hard to know how to support our children. And yet, we must. They deserve better and we have to help them learn how to navigate through so many conflicted models.

There is a lot we have to do, particularly if we are going to help our children learn to develop the ability to make sense out of a world that can be challenging, threatening and confusing. Here are some helpful tips to help them navigate this complex world in which we all live.

  1. Remember your core values. Whether you refer to our values as a school or your own family values, a value system can provide a grounding frame of reference in difficult times. At Flint Hill, everything we do must be honest, respectful, responsible and compassionate. No one is perfect, and we certainly know that there will be slips along the way. But if we use those core values as our bedrock, we can’t go too far off the path. If we overhear our children speaking to each other in less than those terms, we need to respond. Our silence condones those overheard remarks, and we need to watch our own discourse because they are always listening and watching.
  2. Listen. I mean really listen. We’ve all been in situations when we are “listening” to respond rather than to understand. We are waiting for the opportunity to make a comment or to express a point of view without truly hearing the other person. True listening means being open to hearing what someone else has to say, which forces you to reflect on it for a moment. Listening is a skill that truly has to be learned. There are times when I am meeting with someone and I end by asking, “What did you hear me say?” Just as it is important to listen to others, we must also ensure that we are heard. There is a poem that I use at all times that has to do with listening and the power it can have for all of us.
  3. Be mindful of your tone. We know this is critical in all of our communication. Whether it is the tone in our voice or the tone of nonverbal behavior, tone gives away what we are really thinking. We know all too well the reactions we have as parents when our children roll their eyes, turn their shoulders in a certain way, or respond with a sense of arrogance or dismissiveness in their voice. We should not allow that, even among our students. Nonverbal behavior accounts for 65% of all the communication between people. The way we look, the tone of our voice, the shift in our body language and what we do with our arms and hands; all of that sets a tone. And if we are going to effectively engage with and learn from one another, we need to set a tone that is open and constructive.

So much of this struggle has to do with just getting to know, value, and appreciate other people. American psychologist Abraham Maslow developed a theory of the “Hierarchy of Needs” with self-actualization at the pinnacle. That is our ability to truly hear what others have to say and value the fact that they may differ completely from us. If we can get our children to reach this level of understanding, can you imagine how many problems we will solve in the world and how much more respect there will be among people? It is possible, but it is going to take time, hard work, and a commitment on our part.

One area where all of this comes to light is in our discussions about diversity and inclusion. In fact, we have a JK-12 Parent Coffee on Diversity and Inclusion on Wednesday, April 19, at 8:15 a.m., in the Upper School Multipurpose Room. Our Director of Diversity and Inclusion Mia Burton will join me for a discussion of this important topic. Maybe we can take this time to listen to each other, set a positive tone for all that we have to teach our children, focus on our core values, and, above all, learn something positive together.

Together, I look forward to learning more about our program, what we are doing with our students, and how important the partnership is in helping our children develop these important skills. I look forward to seeing you soon! And let’s not forget to wish many of our friends a Happy Passover and a Happy Easter.

Best wishes to you!

Sincerely,

John M. Thomas
Headmaster